Sunday Sermon for September 10, 2017, the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Ez 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20
When God approached Cain after he had slain Abel, the Lord asked where Abel was and Cain replied: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” On one hand we are all responsible for our own self and for our own salvation. If we sin, we have to take responsibility for our action and bring our sins to confession. If your friend sins, unless you are part of the action, you have no responsibility.
However, in the readings today we see that we do have some responsibility for others. St. Paul reminds us, in the second reading, that we are to owe nothing to anyone except to love one another. He goes on to tell us that the latter seven commandments are all summed up in one statement: we are to love our neighbor as ourself. Since love seeks only the best for the other, we do have responsibility to help others seek and choose the good.
In the first reading today God instructs the Prophet Ezekiel about his mission and the responsibility he will bear for his mission. If God instructs him to tell someone about their wickedness and he fails to do so, the Prophet will be responsible for that person’s death. However, if he tells the person and that individual rejects the Prophet’s counsel, then the Prophet will not be responsible for the person’s death.
People are often confused about the prophetic mission. We frequently think that to be a prophet means to predict the future. While there are some prophets who do predict future events, predicting the future is not the primary task of a prophet. The main job of a prophet is to tell people God’s will for them. High on the priority list of things that people need to be told, as evidenced in the first reading, is to stop sinning. This is not nearly as glamorous as predicting the future and it will not generate a lot of friendly response, but it precisely the call of the prophet.
You may be letting out a large sigh of relief right now about the fact that God has not called you to be a prophet. However, because you are baptized, you are a prophet, a priest, and a king. This means that you are called to teach, to offer sacrifice, and to serve. Teaching is the prophetic office and it implies not only teaching objective truth, but also helping others to know and live the truth.
There are limits to this in most circumstances. Unless one is called specifically by God like one of the Prophets whose names we know from Scripture, you do not have to tell everyone what you recognize their sins to be. Neither do you have to walk around with a placard over your front and back which reads “Repent.” If you are called by God, He will direct you to the people you are to address. The rest of us, however, do need to practice this baptismal office within our sphere of influence.
Any parent understands the need to correct their children; spouses are also to practice fraternal correction (pointing out one another’s faults out of charity). Assuming the best about the other makes this task much easier. Beyond those closest to us, it will depend on your relationship with the person, as well as what the person is doing. So, we should correct our friends and family members as well as others with whom we are reasonably close. However, it is not incumbent upon us to be correcting people we do not know. The exceptions to this would be if God tells you to say something, or if the person is doing something that puts others in danger, then we have to take action.
Regardless of who the person is, our manner of addressing the individual must always be one of charity. In the Gospel our Lord tells us to point out our brother’s fault, but to keep it between the two of you. If the brother does not listen, then we can bring one or two others along to address the problem. Unfortunately, the habit many people have is talking to other people about what another person did (this is detraction, by the way), but not talking directly to the person.
This is all part of fraternal charity and our prophetic calling as members of Jesus Christ. As always, our Lord directs us to act in charity by keeping things private and by addressing the situation with kindness and a positive intention. In other words, our intention is not to attack the person or to beat the person over the head with the truth, but to address the problem and bring about reconciliation. This is true love of neighbor and, as our Lord says, if he listens, we have won over our brother.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.